10 Good Reasons to Revisit Your Will

Life changes often, so taking a good look at your will every three to five years can ensure everything from beneficiaries to changes in the law are up to date.

An older couple check over paperwork while sitting at their dining room table.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

You had the perspicacity to create a will when your children were born. Now that they are adults, however, do you still really need your spouse’s sister to serve as their guardian in the event that anything happens to you?

That’s reason No. 1 for reviewing and possibly updating your will periodically. In fact, many professionals believe you should consider an update every three to five years. Here are nine more reasons:

1. You’re at a different point in your life.

Maybe your children are grown. Maybe you now have stepchildren. Or maybe you don’t have children but are divorced or thinking about divorce. Updating your will may involve designating new beneficiaries, changing your name to what it was before you were married or taking other measures to provide for your loved ones and protect the legacy you hope to leave them someday.

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2. Your child is getting married.

No one wants to talk about divorce at this happy time in your family’s life, but imagine you left a large sum of money to your child who uses it to buy a house. Now imagine your child gets a divorce and his or her spouse is entitled to 50% of the home’s value. Through the judicious use of trusts, you can avoid this scenario and make up for the lack of a pre-nuptial agreement that your child refused to consider.

3. Your beneficiaries have issues that concern you.

Substance abuse problems perhaps? Or maybe they live above their means or simply lack ambition. Again, trusts may play a critical role in your will and estate plan. Rather than leaving assets directly to a beneficiary, you can establish a trust for his or her benefit and instruct the trustee to distribute assets only if the beneficiary meets certain conditions. For example:

  • Enrollment in a treatment program
  • Graduating college or graduate school
  • Holding down a steady job

With this approach, you retain a degree of control over how your legacy will be used. How much control you wish to exercise is up to you.

4. Your attorney is deceased or no longer your attorney.

If that’s the case, why are you continuing to authorize him or her to act on your behalf? Even if your attorney is still practicing, however, it makes sense to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have your legal issues and finances become more complex over the years?
  • Have you met another attorney whom you feel is better qualified to handle your affairs?
  • Is your attorney responsive and accessible when you need legal counsel?

The attorney who drafted your will isn’t necessarily the person who should be granted your durable power of attorney.

5. Your health care proxy is no longer healthy.

Again, the person you designated as your health care proxy may no longer be qualified to make critical decisions that can impact the medical treatment you receive. Your proxy may no longer be up to the task. Or perhaps he or she has moved to another state. Or perhaps you have moved to another state as well. 

Different states have different laws about who may serve as a health care proxy. Depending on where you live, for example, you may or may not be able to name someone who lives in another state to make medical decisions on your behalf.

6. You want your heirs to be able to access their legacy without unnecessary delays.

Probate is a legal process that doesn’t just apply to deceased people without wills. The executor named in your will is responsible for initiating the probate process according to the guidelines of the state where you reside. The process is designed to determine the authenticity of your will and make certain that:

  • Assets are distributed in accordance with state law and the provisions of your will
  • Debts are settled and taxes are paid
  • Disagreements among heirs are resolved

Probate can be cumbersome, depending on the size and complexity of your estate. In fact, it can take months or even years before your heirs can take legal control of your assets. As a result, you may wish to take measures to avoid probate, if possible. This may involve the establishment of trusts that reside outside your will and distribute assets directly to beneficiaries. Life insurance and retirement plans like IRAs also feature beneficiaries who may receive assets immediately. 

Finally, jointly owned property is not subject to probate because it typically passes directly to the surviving spouse or other party.

7. What about your executor?

The executor who initiates the probate process is the same person you designated to carry out your wishes as expressed in your will. Often, people name a relative or close friend to assume this important role. Ask yourself whether the executor you named:

  • Has the ability to fulfill his or her responsibilities, especially if your estate is complex
  • Has suffered a decline in his or her health over the years
  • Still wants to serve as your executor or would rather pass the role to somebody else

Changing your executor may require you to create a new will, but not necessarily. Often, you can simply add a codicil to your existing will. Talk to your estate planning attorney to be sure.

8. Estate planning law has changed.   

Estate tax law, like all law, is subject to constant assessment. Administrations leave, and new ones take their place. Congress focuses on different issues. So-called loopholes close, and new opportunities emerge. At the end of 2025, for example, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 is scheduled to expire. This was the legislation responsible for raising the lifetime estate tax exemption to its current level — $13.61 million per person in 2024, or $27.22 million per married couple. In other words, all but the wealthiest citizens are no longer liable for federal estate tax.

However, many provisions of the 2017 legislation are scheduled to expire in 2025. At that time, the annual exemption may drop to about $5 million, adjusted for inflation. While it is impossible to determine at this time whether this reduction will actually occur, it is critical that you remain in close contact with your accountant, estate planning attorney and other financial advisers to determine whether you’ll be affected and, if so, what you can do to alter your plan.

9. You’re concerned about taxes.

Even if the lifetime estate tax exemption remains at its current high level, individual states have not all followed suit. Massachusetts and Oregon, for example, impose estate tax on the portion of an estate that exceeds $2 million and $1 million, respectively. Some states also impose an inheritance tax that is levied on your heirs. If you have substantial assets or are simply wondering how you might be affected, consult with an estate planning attorney and other professionals. There are numerous strategies available to help you mitigate the effects of estate tax that, at the federal level, can be as high as 40%.

A will is a great start to any estate plan

But a will may not be nearly enough. In addition to tax issues, a sound plan can help you address such issues as:

  • Influencing how your assets will be used by children, grandchildren and other heirs
  • Providing for favorite charities, as well as family members
  • Avoiding potential family conflict
  • Ensuring your assets are distributed as you wish them to be and in a timely fashion.

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This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC or with FINRA.

Stefan Greenberg, CFP®, CFS, CLTC
Managing Partner, Lenox Advisors

Stefan Greenberg is a Managing Partner who has been with Lenox Advisors since 2005. Stefan is responsible for working with both corporate and high-net-worth individual clients of the firm. He specializes in comprehensive financial planning, wealth management, estate planning and insurance services for individual clients. Additionally, he helps businesses attract, reward and retain top-level employees through the use of tax-efficient techniques.